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Food for the Heart: Area Chefs Share Winning Creations

Two local chefs took first place in the savory and sweet categories during Casa Pacifica’s Yummie Culinary Competition in September at California State University Channel Islands.

“It’s all about cooking—it’s not about competition—I just do it for the love of food,” said Abdu Romero, a chef at Slate Bistro & Craft Bar in Camarillo, whose winning dish in the savory category was a pan-seared scallop with celeriac, finger lime, tobiko caviar and shrimp chicharrón.

“This was an incredible dish,” said actor Oded Fehr, of Ojai, who emceed the culinary competition on September 26 at CSU Channel Islands. “The presentation was incredible; the taste of the scallop was incredible—it was absolutely phenomenal!”

Romero’s love of food has contributed to his unique signature style of international flavors. Because he has traveled to more than 18 different countries, he has acquired culinary experiences from numerous regional chefs and has worked in some of the finest kitchens in Ventura County, including The Tower Club, Bistro 13 and Spanish Hills Country Club.

For Romero, of Oxnard, his winning dish “was something I created specifically for this event.”

“When you create a dish, you focus on your actual ingredient—the scallop—then you think far beyond,” he told the audience after his win. “If you’re going to eat something, you want everything from it, so that’s how you create things. It’s like a romance.”

The winner of the sweet category was Chef Alex Montoya, who made a Jasmine Plum Rum Ice Cream Pop with a white chocolate hard shell and pop rocks.

“What I like to do is turn a cocktail into a dessert, so I turned a jasmine plum mojito into a dessert,” said Montoya of Water’s Edge in Ventura, Waterside Restaurant and Wine Bar in Oxnard, and Honey Cup Coffeehouse & Creamery, which has locations in Newbury Park and Oxnard.

The Oxnard resident started his culinary path at Spencer Makenzie’s and Zoey’s Café back when he was 17 years old as a prep/dishwasher and sometimes cook. He later took a position at The Cave with the opportunity of working up the ladder. And before he knew it, he was given the opportunity to become executive chef.

Montoya, who has participated in Casa Pacifica’s culinary competition in the past, said, “I’ve won second place pretty consistently,” so winning first place was “solidifying,” and “it was nice to take first place for the first time.”

The culinary competition was part of Casa Pacifica’s annual Angels Wine, Food & Brew Festival, which has been voted the “Best Charity Event” and “Best Food & Drink Festival.” All proceeds from the festival benefit Casa Pacifica’s vital programs and services for foster children and at-risk youth and their families.

Casa Pacifica’s mission is “to restore hope, enhance resiliency, and strengthen community connections for children, young adults, and families at the most challenging times of their lives,” said Carrie Hughes, Casa Pacifica’s Chief Development Officer.

Casa Pacifica’s annual Angels Wine, Food & Brew Festival “is the most important thing that we do in the community every year to raise money for the kids that we serve,” added Shawna Morris, Casa Pacifica’s Chief Executive Officer. “The only reason we do this is because of the kids.”


 

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